Mourning Fire: An invitation to Grief

Four weeks ago today I could've talked to my Dad.  I had called a few times over the weekend but missed him - or got a few words before the concert he was attending began.  We had a couple conversations the week before.  Nothing of great significance crossed my mind, so it was the usual stuff - and he talked a bit with each of the kids.

Today I cannot speak with him.  Four weeks ago, this evening, he was on his way to see us and had stopped for the night in a motel in Georgia.  He and my Mom had a nice visit with friends, then booked into their motel and headed for bed.  He was reading in the other room and seemed to fall asleep.  My Mom tried to wake him to come to bed.  But he wouldn't be woken.  His peaceful sleep had merely been a transition from this world to the next.

I got the call at 10:30, and I was already asleep.  My mind could not take in or comprehend those words, "Dad is gone."  I refused to believe while grief swept over me.  These are some of the darkest days of my life.  My heart has been pushed in all kinds of directions - disbelief, grief, regret, self-examination, shock, refusal, pain, sorrow, tears, detachment, numbness, silence.  And all these at varying degrees at varying times.

I have often known of others losing a parent.  I have felt sorry and sad for them.  But I had no idea what they were truly feeling.  I observed others' pain with a certain distant sorrow.  I had no way to comprehend or understand what it meant.

Yes, this was sudden and unexpected.  I lost words.  I could not write, other than to record facts in halting sentences that ran together like a child's description of events.  I could not hash it out in emotive streams on the piano.  No passion would flow from me.  I could not speak, except when it was necessary.  I could not see people.  I needed silence and time and space.

But I am a Mom.  I have to run kids all over and do laundry and make meals.  God graciously met all these needs the first few days.  Sam took off work and did my duties.  My sister-in-law stepped in to take over many of the responsibilities, including more oversight of her mother (my mother-in-law, who also lives with us).  I did nothing the first few days but stay in bed and sob.

But I needed a change of scenery.  And to be still, and alone.  We have a fire pit outside, so I gathered twigs and leaves and heaved over some bigger logs and I lit a match.  I sat and watched it burn.  The first day I sat a few hours.  What mother of 5 has hours to sit alone?  It is totally unrealistic.  But it was my mourning fire.  I let it burn and burn and watched as it smoldered.

The next day I did it again.  I lit the fire and watched it burn.  Sometimes I sat hypnotized.  Always I sat alone and in total silence.  Other times I wept.  I let the tears come and sting my eyes together with the smoke.  I imagined Dad with me and continued to deny the reality that he isn't here anymore.  My fire became, and still is, my quiet place of grief.

I tell people openly that I am still in denial and quite a bit of shock.  How does one reckon with a reality that has been bedrock for the entire duration of my 39 year life?  How do I wake up one day and believe the truth that Dad lives in realms beyond, and not in this earthly one?  How?  I don't.  I admit reality in my head, but my heart refuses to budge.

So I sit by a fire and wait for the reality to hit.  And it does.  Only in stillness do I confront the truth - the harsh reality that bites like bitter winds during a deep freeze in Chicago.  And it feels like a cannon has been shot through the center of my being and left a gaping hole where my heart should be.  And yet I live, but feel so dead inside.

A Mourning Fire is my place of reckoning.  The flames leap and seem alive, but they are reminding me how quickly life passes.  We think our days in this life will go forever.  That is a preposterous idea, and we tell ourselves the truth - 'we all die' - but live in perpetual denial.  Yet somehow denial in grief seems odd to others, but I say, we all live in a certain denial if we don't reckon with the inevitable end of our own days.

The Psalmist says, "Teach us to number our days rightly, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Yet we think eternal matters are the department of the religious.  Those who live in mysticism, fantasy, superstition and the like.  Yeah, whatever.

Not so.

My time of grief seems to me to be an inevitable reality for the rest of my earthly days.  They say it lets up in time.  They say...

But I'll believe it when I see it.

Until then, I will continue to sit by my Mourning Fire and hash out my grief in silence, while I tell my soul the truth that my head knows but my heart resists.

And as the truth sinks in, I weep.


  1. I am sorry for your loss, Sarah

  2. Oh, Sarah, it will get better. The suddenness of your Dad's passing is harder, I think than watching the gradual loss through Alzheimer's or some other wasting away. I am eight years further down the road and it still hurts but not with the sharp sword.
    Praying for you, in love, Cheri

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Cheri.


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